Kajiado's takeover of Amboseli National Park setback to conservation, experts say

Tourists up close with a pride of lions at the Amboseli National Park. [Jayne Rose Gacheri, Standard]

Conservationists have opposed a proposal to transfer the management of Amboseli National Park to Kajiado County.

They claim the move would downgrade the park’s legal status as a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot.

In August 2023, President William Ruto announced that the government would return the management of the park to the county.

Last month, the Ministry of Tourism invited comments and submissions of memoranda from members of the public and stakeholders on the proposed transfer.

However, conservationists have argued that changing the park’s management could be detrimental to wildlife, the environment and Kenya’s reputation internationally.

“This action will weaken conservation efforts, set a negative precedent and erode trust with development partners,” said Nature Kenya director Paul Matiku.

He added: “The risk of its loss is excessive. We urge the government to reconsider this decision and prioritize the long-term health of Amboseli and Kenya’s conservation efforts.”

Matiku said transferring responsibility to counties with limited expertise will lead to mismanagement and endanger wildlife populations.

He said instead, KWS should be able to manage wildlife in all national parks and work out a fair revenue-sharing formula with counties and host communities.

“Already, counties that are wildlife hotspots have started making demands to take over the management of national parks,” said Matiku.

“If Amboseli is downgraded to a reserve to be managed by Kajiado County, what will prevent all other counties from demanding the same treatment?” Matiku asked.

He added: “This is the death of national parks and the death of Kenya Wildlife Service and the end of Kenya’s pride as a global wildlife conservator.”

Amboseli National Park is a globally recognized Key Biodiversity Area. It is a crucial conservation system linking to Chyulu Hills National Park.

Conservationists said that downgrading Amboseli National Park could dismantle the strong legal protection that is essential for its survival as a Key Biodiversity Area.

Amboseli ecosystem supports a web of migratory corridors and dispersal areas connecting the Amboseli National Park with adjacent group ranches and neighbouring conservation areas like Chyulu Hills, Tsavo West and Kilimanjaro West in Tanzania.

These corridors include the Amboseli National Park-Olgulului South-Kitenden-Kilimanjaro corridor.

The corridor facilitates movement between the montane forests of Kilimanjaro and Amboseli National Park, Amboseli-Kimana-Kuku-Chyulu West corridor, Amboseli-Olgulului North-Selengei corridor, Amboseli-Olgulului North-Mbirikani corridor.

“This move contradicts Kenya’s global stance towards strengthening conservation efforts and therefore risks Kenya’s reputation as a leader in this field,” Nature Kenya noted in a letter addressed to the Advisory Committee, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.

Amboseli currently faces threats like subdivision of surrounding lands and conservationists are concerned that County management of the park will exacerbate the issues, harming the park’s ecosystem, which might lose its ecosystem support services.

They noted that Kajiado County boasts significant potential for wildlife conservation outside protected areas through group ranches and conservancies.

However, they raised concern that the ongoing large-scale subdivision of group ranches poses a major threat.

The proposal, they noted, will have irreversible negative consequences both to the wildlife and local communities who depend on livestock grazing and tourism revenue generated by healthy wildlife.

In its recommendations, the organization advised a revenue-sharing deal between the national and county governments to enhance adequate incentives to communities.

Their views contradict those of Kajiado leaders, led by Governor Joseph Ole Lenku, a staunch supporter of Amboseli takeover.

Lenku, who broke down in tears after President Ruto’s announcement in Narok County last year, insists that Amboseli will be in safe hands under the management of the county government.

“It was a masterstroke for the President to allow the transfer on condition that the community cede land to open up blocked wildlife corridors,” he said.